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Sunday, June 29, 2008

SOUND OFF: WORDS JUMBLED

[UPDATE: July 29, 2008, Scrabulous is no longer available to users of Facebook in the U.S. and Canada.]
[UPDATE: On July 24, 2008, Hasbro filed a lawsuit against Scrabulous creators.]

One reader felt torn about playing the online word game Scrabulous on the Facebook networking site, because the game's developers hadn't sought permission from Hasbro -- which owns the rights to Scrabble, the board game that Scrabulous replicates. I asked my readers to decide whether it is OK to continue playing Scrabulous if they feel that it infringes on Hasbro's rights.

The results of an unscientific poll on my column's blog have 10 percent of my readers voting it OK to continue playing Scrabulous, 37 percent voting it not OK and another 53 percent voting it not OK -- but adding that they'll continue playing anyway.

Patrick Burris of Charlotte, N.C., believes that it should be left to the courts to decide whether one company's game infringes upon another's intellectual property.

But Carroll Straus, an attorney in Orange County, Calif., points out that the doctrine of fair use takes into account the degree to which such usage confuses the public and reduces the profitability of the original owner's use of its trademarked product. It will fall upon Hasbro to show how it has lost sales due to Scrabulous, she writes.

Check out other opinions here, or post your own or post your own by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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